A couple weeks ago, I was on a radio show in Texas to talk about my book. The book is about a lot of things, though basketball is not one of them. Regardless, the host's first question was, "How you like them Mavs?"
I liked them a fair amount, I said. Well-coached, deep bench, tough defensively. Next, the host asked whether I thought them Mavs could knock off them Spurs. Ten minutes later, he was still asking about Texas basketball. Finally, as my appearance drew to a close, he noted we had time for one more question. Tell us about your book, he said. It looks real neat!
There was nothing to do but pretend he hadn't just said "real neat" and give the movie pitch version — "It's about people who are really passionate about weird jobs and what they can tell us about the idea of a 'true calling'" — and then try to cram in one interesting anecdote.
It wasn't the first time I'd run into this, nor will it be the last. It's part of the deal when you work for Sports Illustrated (a blessing and a curse when you write a book that's not about sports). For the past six years, I've covered the NBA for the magazine (I write a semi-regular column for our Si.Com website — here's one from the NBA All-Star Game). It's a great job, for the most part. I get to scrutinize a game I love (and played poorly for a year in college) and profile some remarkable athletes, even if they're not always remarkable human beings. On the other hand, the travel can be a bit much. I have more Starwood Points than can be considered remotely healthy and know the seating charts of most airplanes.
Then there are the reactions. When people talk to lawyers or doctors or stockbrokers, they often ask these professionals for advice, trusting in the expertise provided. When it comes to sports, for the most part (radio hosts aside), people don't solicit my opinion so much as take the opportunity to offer theirs. I might be able to give them an analysis of why the Pistons aren't running their "Hawk series" offense effectively against the Heat, but, because at its root being a sports fan is all about opinion — Bobby Abreu may be hitting .300 but he's still a bum in my book — people do not necessarily want expertise. Rather, they are looking for validation or, failing that, a forum. It's why sports are the great equalizer, the tissue that connects a guy at the barbershop with a CEO. (Unfortunately, it's also why sports talk radio is so popular.)
But I digress. This is a blog about books, so I suppose I should tell you a little more about mine, which is still not about basketball (though I did write a book on the subject, Hoops Nation, some years go). I spent the better part of a year and a half following around people who excel at unusual gigs — a mushroom prospector in Oregon, a former Marine in Florida who wall-walks buildings and has legally changed his name to "Spiderman" — with an eye toward finding out what sets them off on these strange little paths. If you're interested in reading an excerpt, one can be found here. I don't have a website, or a myspace profile, which makes me a technological laggard, but if you're interested in talking about the book, or have questions, I'd love to do so.
Either way, I'll be around all week to offer a mixture of thoughts on writing, careers, and sports, and I will try to live up to the lofty standards of my blogging predecessors (I particularly liked Molly O'Neill's description of a many-terminaled airport as looking like "a squashed tick"). I'm also going to mention a couple books I'm fond of each day. So for those interested in writing literary nonfiction (or reading about those who do), The New New Journalism is an excellent collection of interviews with writers like Michael Lewis and Jon Krakauer. For examples of the craft, check out The Art of Fact. It's got everything from Dickens to Breslin to Wolfe to McPhee. I keep a copy near my desk for when I feel stale.
Books mentioned in this post
Chris Ballard is the author of The Butterfly Hunter: Adventures of People Who Found Their True Calling Way Off the Beaten Path